THE CLOTH AND THE CAP
Ever since the South African bishops and clergy had responded so warmly, Buchman's hope was that the Anglican Church as a whole would rise in a new way to answer the spiritual and moral needs in Britain and further afield. 'God is working through the Groups in a distinctive way to bridge the divergence between the life of the ordinary folk and of the Church,' he had noted enthusiastically as he sailed from Cape Town. While they were in London for the 1930 Lambeth Conference, Bishops Carey, Karney and others bore witness to what had happened in South Africa. Buchman's thought for that conference was equally full-blooded: 'A whole new orientation for Lambeth. An international awakening. A great national advance among the clergy so that England is aflame for vital Christianity.'
As the thirties progressed, the English bishops became aware of the effect of Buchman's work on individuals. They neither wished nor were able to ignore it, but they felt a duty to examine it carefully. The Bishop of London, Dr Winnington-Ingram, for example, asked Sir Lynden Macassey, K.C., an eminent lawyer, who had chaired many government commissions, to investigate the Group privately for him. 'I did so, and I did it thoroughly,' wrote Sir Lynden later. 'My investigation showed there was no foundation in fact for the allegations so often made against Dr Buchman and his work. The Bishop was entirely satisfied. He became a strong supporter of the Group and acclaimed its Christian work to the end of his episcopate.1
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Cosmo Gordon Lang, made even more extensive enquiries. Reading the dozens of reports and letters to him, one is surprised how few of them mention Buchman himself: they usually comment upon the people he has affected or the 'Groups' at large. Bishop James Perry, the Presiding Bishop of the American Episcopal Church, perhaps supplied the explanation when he wrote to Lang that 'Buchman is active in the background providing the mechanics and the direction', but that 'the place of conspicuous leadership ... is taken now by Clergymen of the Church and laymen of our own and other Congregations.'2
Lang had written Perry a 'private and confidential enquiry' because he had 'had recently a great deal of very confidential information about Buchman himself which, I must frankly acknowledge, fills me with considerable disquiet'.3 Making clear that he had 'the greatest sympathy' for the movement, Lang asked whether Perry had 'any grounds for hesitation as to Buchman's own personality and influence'.
Bishop Perry replied at length saying he had 'made your inquiry the subject of careful thought and of conversation with many who know the Groups intimately, though with very different points of view'. He himself had 'been in close touch with them' for five years, his first contact being 'through a few men and women of Rhode Island, people of intelligence and good standing, who had impressed me by the moral and spiritual change, in some cases complete conversion, which unquestionably they owed to Buchman and his followers'. He had watched the movement carefully and had attended meetings in various parts of America, in Oxford and Cambridge.
Of Buchman himself Bishop Perry wrote, 'I have not heard from even his severest critics, and they are many and outspoken, a breath of suspicion touching his character. I know him personally and I believe that I know his points of strength and weakness. He has a veritable passion for exerting influence upon men and women of social standing, and a genius for accomplishing this purpose. He indulges himself in a sense of moral and spiritual superiority and his followers are imbued with the same "complex". He cannot easily conceive of salvation outside the system that he confessedly has devised, but I believe him to be sincere in his conviction, and in his personal life above reproach.'4*
(* Bishop Manning, Perry's successor as Presiding Bishop, gave the opening address at a crowded Oxford Group meeting in the Waldorf Astoria Ballroom, New York, on 15 March 1934.)
In general, Dr Lang relied upon regular reports from men like Professor Grensted; his own secretary, the Revd A. C. Don (later Dean of Westminster); and Lord Salisbury. Many other letters flowed in. The Revd 'Tubby' Clayton, the founder of Toc H, wrote, with several enclosures, complaining that Buchman had suggested that two men, for whom he himself had plans, should spend six months with the Oxford Group in America to 'learn evangelism'.5 Canon Arnold Mayhew weighed in with a balanced report, ending with questions less explicitly raised by other Church leaders: 'Will the movement become one more sect - the Salvation Army of the Middle Classes? God forbid! And yet how are we to make use of it? To direct all this energy and enthusiasm into revitalising the Church, which needs it so much. Can any of the new wine be put into our old bottles without a general bust-up?'6
A large number of letters were full of gratitude. The Bishop of Dover wrote, after attending the Oxford house-party of 1932, 'It is difficult to write dispassionately about something which has been so great a help to one personally.'7 Prebendary E. C. Rich of St Paul's added, 'Although I went to Oxford frankly out of curiosity to investigate the movement at first hand, within twenty-four hours my whole outlook on life and religion was changed and now I long to share my experience.'8
A frequent subject for mention was the fresh reality - and sometimes the cocksureness - of Buchman's young colleagues. This is hardly surprising, for when Buchman was invited by people like Lord William Cecil, the Bishop of Exeter, to meet their friends over a weekend, he took new recruits with him, and tended to get them to do the speaking rather than doing it himself. Sometimes these young people expressed themselves in highly informal ways. Kit Prescott recalled such an occasion: 'I had been "changed" a few months, and had arranged for the local Anglican canon to invite Frank Buchman to speak to some two hundred clergy and the Bishop at a monthly diocesan meeting. After a very formal introduction, Frank was invited to "give an address". He responded by asking me to speak first. At that time part of my message was that I had given my life to God in spite of my cordial dislike of clergymen and that I infinitely preferred the bar parlour to the church pew which, I maintained, smelled of dust. So this I delivered with all the conviction at my command. There was dead silence except that Frank leant back and roared with laughter. After I had occupied most of his time, he then explained why he had asked me to speak first. He believed, he said, that good fishermen would always prefer fresh fish for breakfast. The meeting went on twice as long as usual and the clergy would hardly let us leave.'
Buchman himself was often equally outspoken. On one occasion the editor of the Church of England Newspaper, Herbert Upward, got together twelve of the most critical of his clerical readers to meet him. After posing various theological questions, which Buchman answered, one of them upbraided Buchman for talking openly in men's meetings about masturbation. Buchman thought for a moment and then, since the meeting was confidential, asked for a show of hands from any present who were troubled by that problem personally. First one, then two, then eleven hands went up. The meeting turned into a spiritual clinic among fellow sinners. Upward himself said afterwards to Buchman, 'I am with you for life,' and once when another churchman expressed fears about 'the dangers' inherent in Buchman's work, replied, 'Personally, I would rather face whatever risks there may be than be content with the numbing self-complacency existing in the Churches, or at any rate, in the Church of England today.'9
The bishops in general seemed inclined to take the same view. At the meeting of Diocesan Bishops of England and Wales in January 1932 Archbishop Lang, 'in summing up' a discussion of the Oxford Group, 'said that there is a gift here of which the Church is manifestly in need',10 and two years later a further 'informal conference' presided over by Archbishop William Temple of York 'thankfully recognised that various movements, and notably the Oxford Groups, are being used to demonstrate the power of God to change lives and give to personal witness its place in true discipleship'.11
Buchman believed in the incalculable impact of people with a fresh experience of God, who expected to change further each day and to pass on their experience to others. He was confirmed in this by his friend Archbishop Söderblom of Uppsala, Sweden, one of the first ecumenists, who wrote that he feared the ecumenical movement was being choked by 'human arrangements ... in thoughts and plans'. 'There must be, as you write, and as you act, a deeper unity,' he wrote Buchman. '. . . We need that individual renewal and that deepening of our Christian unity to an utmost degree.'12 In a message written shortly before his death, he added, 'You are concerned with the only thing that matters in religion and life - Christ's absolute ruling in our hearts and words and deeds. A changed life is more eloquent than lots of sermons.'13
‘No one can guess which way the live cat on the hearthrug will jump,' Buchman used to say. 'No one expects anything of the china cat on the mantelpiece.' He thought no one - himself included - exempt from this need for further change and inspiration. He responded with sympathy to the cleric who told him, 'I have become like a physician who hands out flowers and good cheer to his patients, but never cures anybody,' because he had known the same condition in himself.
He took no one, however eminent, for granted. Thus when Dr Foss Westcott, the Metropolitan of India, Burma and Ceylon, was coming to the 1933 Oxford house-party, he called a few undergraduates together. He did not let on that he had known the Metropolitan since the early 1920s, but asked them about him. Someone who had been in India told of the Metropolitan's saintly life, how he lived mainly in a kind of hut on the roof of his palace, did not smoke or drink or indulge himself in any way, was one of the few Englishmen whom Gandhi trusted, and was famous for his sermons. 'Yes,' said Buchman, 'that's all true. But he cannot diagnose people.'
He then said, 'I want you to see a lot of him. Tell him how you found your way from agnosticism to faith, how you are fishing for men, how you are learning to bring cure to drunks and straighten out an intellectual's living - and thinking. You might even mention that if one is not winning people to Christ, one is sinning somewhere along the line.'
In the next weeks the undergraduates spent much time with the Metropolitan. He enjoyed their company and played a good game of tennis, but did not altogether like the idea that if one was not winning, one was sinning. After three days he made a speech about how 'the wheels of God grind slowly', how 'some sow and others reap' and how you never could know what effect you were having on people: all of which had truth in it. But Buchman said to the undergraduates, 'Be true friends to him. Carry on.' He also said, 'I had an hour yesterday when I was very much shaken and needed help. So I went to the Metropolitan, and he helped me. I am very grateful he was there and I could go to him.'
On the eighth day the Metropolitan spoke again. 'I've been like a fisherman who came home in the evening and said, "I did not catch any fish, but I influenced a good many."' He told how his own shyness and other people's flattery had diminished his effectiveness. 'There are always five or six dear old ladies to tell me how well I have preached,' he said. Now he wanted to learn more about how to win individuals for Christ. He had been brought up in a Christian home - his father was Bishop Brooke Foss Westcott of Durham - and had been through the finest theological colleges, but no one before had raised with him the subject of diagnosing and, by God's grace, curing people individually.
Before returning to India the Metropolitan stated to the press: 'For myself, these have been weeks of challenge. I have been twenty-eight years a Bishop of the Church of God, and have kept before me the promises made at the time of my consecration, but it was at the House Party of the Oxford Group Movement (sic) at Oxford last July that I realised that one might faithfully endeavour to carry out these promises and yet fail in that which is a fundamental duty, namely to be a life-changer.'14
Back in India he wrote to some of the Oxford undergraduates that, whereas on his many previous voyages he had never had a deep personal talk with anyone, this time nineteen people had talked with him and fourteen, including the kind of people he would never have approached before, had given their lives to Christ. Even before he had left Oxford he had found a new understanding with George West, just appointed Bishop of Rangoon, who had come to him admitting he had always been afraid of him: something of which Westcott had been wholly unaware.
It was this kind of contagious change which, Buchman believed, would revitalise the Church. He felt that many in the Church were determined to keep things as they were. This 'religious trust', as he called it, often caused him to feel frustrated. Thus a popular Methodist preacher who, returning from an Oxford house-party, astonished his invariably crowded congregation by telling them he felt a failure. He spoke of the impact on him personally of Christ's standards of absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness and love, and continued, 'You come here each week and always praise my sermons. But we're just like whited sepulchres. None of you change and nor do I.' He said he saw in the congregation people who had also been at the house-party and suggested that anyone who wished could wait afterwards and hear their experiences there. More than 200 did so. For three weeks such groups met after each evening service, and many found a new or deeper commitment there. Then some church officials closed in and spoke of ultimatums. The preacher disbanded the groups rather than divide the church.
A subtler and more pitiable clash of loyalties was voiced to Buchman by a clergyman's wife: 'I know without a shadow of doubt that I have found God through contact with your wonderful fellowship and that I have got a message which I long to pass on. You will be the first to understand that I don't find things very easy with regard to my husband. He is in no way hostile to the Group, but I always have the feeling he wishes I could have found God and happiness through the Church, and that it must always be the Church for him. I love the Church too, where one finds reality and simplicity as one finds it in the Group movement, but it is so rare. I do care most desperately how the Church as a whole faces up to the challenge of the Group movement.' Later, her husband was to show his active sympathy when the Oxford Group was attacked.
There is no doubt that Buchman was often impatient with organised religion. He felt that the Church was increasingly out of touch with the gathering dangers. 'No one is more jealous for the Church than I,' he once said. 'But loyalty to the Church demands that we see the Church as she really is, and the Church, as she is today, is not going to change the nation. If the Church crowds are not remade, some dictator will remake them. Communism and Fascism have created the greatest crisis in the history of the Church since the catacombs. What does this entail? A whole new orientation - go out into the streets, the byways and hedges. Not our conception of the Church, but the answer that the world needs. This means the fur will fly, but I am ready to go through with it!'
Such opinions were bound to provoke reactions. In March 1933 the Bishop of Durham, Dr Hensley Henson, devoted a Charge to his diocese to what Owen Chadwick, his biographer, describes as 'a sustained indictment of the Oxford Group'.15 It was, in effect, an enquiry into whether 'the Group could be domesticated' within the Church of England, and his answer was an emphatic 'No'.16
After a scholarly survey of the emergence of sects through the centuries, from which he concluded that the Oxford Group must inevitably become a sect, Henson examined 'Group principles' as he conceived them. Chadwick summarises his attitude as, 'Here was the confessional, exposed to its worst risks and stripped of its protective discipline; here were adolescents acting as father-confessors, the blind leading the blind; here was the fascination of prurience as well as a moral ideal; here was an idea of guidance as immediate inspiration, taking the place of reasonable discussion and sensible judgement; here was a movement which seemed to have little place for the poor but went for Oxford undergraduates and political leaders and capitalists, its work done in hotels and centres of fashion; here was a movement claiming to be above denominations but like all such movements turning already into another denomination.'17
The Bishop, however, had never accepted any invitation to attend any Group house-party, meeting or occasion, or to meet people closely associated with it. He declared he was not 'temperamentally fined' for such an ordeal, and had an 'almost physical repugnance'18 against the kind of movement he conceived the Group to be. Chadwick comments: 'He (Henson) was not well fitted for the impartial critique which would have helped, because his inner revulsion from any such movement ran too deep.'19 His reasons for writing the Charge were, according to Chadwick, his duty to his diocese, his love of Oxford (whose name he considered Buchman to have stolen) and, 'far more emotionally', that 'one of the young men for whom he cared much . . . and thought to be the most promising of his ordinands, became a disciple of Dr Buchman' and 'went off to Canada' with him.20
The first edition of Henson's Charge made little impact, but he returned to his theme to more effect in the autumn and winter. During the summer a number of prominent Londoners had urged that an Oxford Group campaign should take place in London. The Bishop of London had invited Buchman and his team to be commissioned in St Paul's Cathedral, and the Archbishop of Canterbury had received them at Lambeth Palace. Henson thereupon summarised his objections in a letter to The Times on 19 September, and brought out a second edition of his Charge, with a new preface, in December.
After his letter the bishops, according to press summaries of their diocesan conferences, were divided. The Bishops of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich '21 and of Southwark 22 appear to have been more critical than laudatory, while those of Manchester, Oxford and Rochester,23 although offering advice and caution, had no doubt that the Oxford Group was changing people's lives and making religion more real to many. A typical contribution came from Dr Hewlett Johnson of Canterbury, soon to be christened 'the Red Dean'. While stating that 'the "house-parties" idea smacks of snobbishness' and saying 'the doctrine of guidance gets dangerously near to magic', he continued, 'What, however, outweighs these tendencies - and they can be avoided - is that careless, selfish and even vicious lives, especially among young men and women, are being changed and consecrated to God. There is a new orientation Godward . . .'24 One of the points Bishop Henson, too, raised in his letter was that Buchman concerned himself with the upper and middle classes, the 'up and outs', rather than, as was traditional in evangelistic movements, with the 'down and outs'. Prebendary Wilson Carlile, the current Honorary Chief Secretary of the Church Army, was one of those who replied. 'Many of us have tried to deal with the outcast and the criminal,' he wrote, 'but the Groups have aimed at changing the lives of the lazy and dangerous intelligentsia. I admire their pluck. Let us help them all we can.'25
In his new preface the Bishop rested his case largely upon the evidence of Martin Kiddle, a young Oxford man who had travelled for five months with Buchman's team in North America and returned to Britain, leaving a letter of profuse thanks. 'I am looking forward to seeing the Bishop of Liverpool and my friends at Oxford, to tell them of the tremendous achievements of the past months,' he had written Buchman. 'Again many thanks for all your training and fellowship. My work in England will not only be richer but radically different as a result of this experience.'26 He then went to stay with Henson and apparently supplied 'facts' which the Bishop, owing to his policy of avoiding contact with the Oxford Group, was unable to check. In August Kiddle wrote to a mutual friend asking her to tell Buchman that 'unfortunately many misguided people are using my name in their attacks on the Group in a dishonest way. They have attributed to me things I have never said . . . Please tell him that I shall always keep a very warm affection for him.'27 Yet in September he wrote to The Times, 'I have no hesitation in supporting every statement and criticism made by the Bishop of Durham.'28 Nine years later Kiddle, who had been ordained, was to become a tragic figure, convicted at Bow Street on a morals charge and found dead shortly afterwards from unexplained causes.29 Though he was frequently quoted by name in Henson's preface, he was omitted from the Bishop's memoirs which were published in the year in which he was convicted.
During the early 1930s the Church of England made at least two official suggestions of closer co-operation. The first proposal was transmitted to Buchman and Loudon Hamilton by Dr Cyril Bardsley, Bishop of Leicester and Chairman of the Archbishop's Committee on Evangelism. Bardsley had attended several house-parties and had written that his 'chief impression was the utter sincerity and humility of the Group's leaders'.30
Buchman and Hamilton travelled to Leicester to hear the proposal. 'The idea', noted Hamilton, 'was that the Oxford Group should be recognised officially as a sort of Provisional Wing of the Church of England, recognised and organised accordingly, with Dr Bardsley as Chairman. Dr Bardsley seemed to me as if he did not relish the part he was chosen to play, but loyally expounded the proposal, ending with the suggestion of himself assuming the chairmanship.' There is some doubt whether Bardsley in fact proposed himself or Buchman for that office, as Buchman asserted the latter in a letter to a friend. To whichever proposal it was, Buchman replied, 'Hitherto there has been no chairman except the Holy Spirit,' and he and Hamilton left by the next train for London.
The second suggestion was made by the Bishop of Salisbury and was talked out in January 1935 at Lambeth, in the presence of three other Bishops. The Ecclesiastical Commission had bought Milton Abbey in Dorset, together with its large house and ample grounds. They now offered it, in the words of the Bishop of Salisbury, to be 'a training centre run by the Oxford Group under the aegis of the Church of England'. 'For my own part', he wrote enthusiastically, 'I confess I am fired with the possibility of grounding all that is good in the Group movement in the soil of the Catholic faith and tradition. It is certainly what the Church wants, and I believe would be for the strength and development of the Movement.'31 The upkeep, which would fall on the Oxford Group, would be about £2,000 a year.
The Bishops' first approach had been made to a number of Church of England clergy and laymen, and took place in early December. The letter quoted above was sent to Kenaston Twitchell in London, as Buchman was in Norway. Those first approached were enthusiastic about Church sponsorship, but Twitchell, noting that it would take twenty mature people to supply adequate leadership, was more cautious. 'It was offered to us free with the understanding that we would take care of the upkeep,' he wrote Buchman. 'It was pointed out that the Group is not an organisation* and therefore could run no establishment as a Group. With this the Bishop, I understand, concurred, but said he hoped it might be possible for us to supply individuals as leaders and make the place a Group centre as a private house.'32
(* There was, at that time, no legal body representing the Oxford Group.)
Buchman seems to have left the decision to those in Britain, and by the time of the January meeting at Lambeth, all were agreed that the Group was not then able to take on so large an establishment and, more importantly, that its mission was to a wider audience than could be reached through any one Church. Garrett Stearly remembers Buchman saying to him, 'We cannot afford to become the property of any one group.'
One line of the Bishop of Durham's attack which found many sympathetic ears was his reference to what he considered Buchman's 'assuming' the name 'Oxford' - something which he said had done 'yeoman's duty in South Africa and America'. The Times, which had frequently used the name 'Oxford Group' in previous years and, indeed, used it in the headline over the Bishop's letter, thereafter dropped the prefix 'Oxford' and wrote an editorial underlining its decision. The issue roused strong feelings. Many Oxford men opposed Buchman on this issue in the belief that he had personally invented the name for publicity purposes and that, the Bishop of Durham's account being true, the use of the word 'Oxford' could bring ill-repute to the University. Others felt that he should have renounced the name when it spontaneously came into general usage. A lively correspondence, pro and con, was published in The Times.
This question arose on 31 October 1933 at high table at Oriel College, where both Buchman and the Master of University College, Sir Michael Sadler, were dining. Buchman explained how the name had come into being, and said that he himself had no desire for his name to be central in anything God had done through him, that many Oxford men felt the Oxford Group had brought them nearer their University's motto, Dominus IlluminatioMea, than anything else had done, and that the Oxford undergraduate force was the largest in training anywhere.*
(* Martin reckoned that of the seven men visiting South Africa in 1928 six were from Oxford; of the twenty-one visiting Canada in 1933, thirteen; in 1934, eighteen out of twenty-seven; of 138 British who went to Denmark in 1935, seventy. In 1939, out of fifty-three men devoting their whole time in London, twenty-nine were graduates of the University.) (Martin MSS.)
When the public controversy was at its height Buchman wrote to Sadler. ’The Times’, he wrote, '. . . imputes dishonest motives to us, and this vitiates the challenge to a new level of honesty in commercial life. You will remember that at dinner that night in Oxford you told us not to yield an inch on the point. . . ,'33
Sadler's reply was both practical and prophetic: '. . . you and your friends were right in calling yourselves "The Oxford Group" because, at a critical time, your work here was of determinative importance to the future of the movement. The name is not copyright, and nobody can say Yea or Nay to your right of using it. I feel pragmatic about it. If there is anything essentially connected with Oxford in the movement, the name "The Oxford Group" will survive as representing one historical aspect in its growth. If, on the other hand, the Oxford connection is swallowed up in something bigger and more international, the name "Oxford Group" would be instinctively felt by writers all over the world to have become a misnomer. In the meantime I hope you will stick to it. As you know, I am thankful that Oxford has any share in this spiritual awakening.'34
Buchman would no more formally disown the name than he could formally have adopted it. He accepted it with its advantages and disadvantages. Whether he was wise to do so has been questioned even by friendly critics. Sir Arnold Lunn, for example, wrote that Buchman and his friends were 'bound to have enough trouble on their hands if they confined themselves to their legitimate objective, the campaign against sin, and it was a great mistake to risk a head-on collision not only with sin but also with Oxford'.35 Certainly this first clash immediately affected the policy of The Times and other newspapers, and later became manifest in various government departments where Oxford men abounded.
The disadvantages, indeed, grew with the years. After 1933 the name 'Oxford' stood in the United States for something known there as the 'Oxford Oath' - a pledge adopted by students of many American universities following the example of the majority in the Oxford Union who had declared they would not fight 'for King and Country'. 'Oxford' from this moment stood for 'pacifist' in America, and the Oxford Group there was suspected of both pacifism and Communism. Nor was it a great advantage in countries where British rule was being challenged by nationalist and independence movements, and at one point even Mahatma Gandhi's friendship was strained by this. It finally became, as Sir Michael Sadler had foreseen, too narrow a term and was eventually to give way to 'Moral Re-Armament'.
The controversy over the name did nothing to diminish the interest aroused by the campaign in London during the winter of 1933-4. Seven thousand crowded into St Paul's Cathedral. The Archbishop of Canterbury, receiving the party at Lambeth Palace, pointed to the pictures of his predecessors and said that though many of them would possibly have shared the fears of certain writers to The Times, he for his part was convinced that the Oxford Group was called by God to London.*
(* In August 1934 Dr Lang told his Diocesan Conference: 'The Oxford Group is most certainly doing what the Church of Christ exists everywhere to do. It is changing human lives, giving them a new joy and freedom, liberating them from faults of temper, of domestic relationships, and the like, which have beset them, and giving them a new ardour to communicate to their fellow creatures what God has given to them.' (Church of England Newspaper, 14 September 1934.)
The popular response was large and led to further invitations from various sections of the community. The Lord Mayor received a large group at the Mansion House. Sir Walter Windham, a veteran racing-car driver and airways pioneer, somewhat disconcerted the solemnity of the occasion by stepping forward and saying he thanked God for a man like Frank Buchman and did not mind what was said in The Times about him. He then called for 'Three cheers for Buchman', which were given with various degrees of enthusiasm by the embarrassed dignitaries. The Times reported all this without comment.36
The press were taking a great interest. Among the more sensational items was a report of the preliminary house-party at Eastbourne, in which Buchman was quoted in a large headline as saying that 'God is a millionaire', the implication of the article being that Buchman was handsomely endowed.37 Two weeks later he reported that, on verifying Buchman's financial position, he had found that this man was taking 200 people into London with only a few pounds in hand. 'There was no word of reproach about that previous article,' he concluded.38 At about the same time Lord Southwood, the owner of the Labour paper the Daily Herald, rang Buchman and said tersely, 'I hear you're a class movement.' 'That's right,' replied Buchman. 'There are two classes - the changed and the unchanged.'
Invitations came from two other areas of London life. A Member of Parliament, Sir Francis Fremantle, suggested that a small group of MPs meet with Buchman and a few friends. Buchman had the thought, 'Take fifty with you.' This turned out to be wise. The Evening Standard reported the 'extraordinary curiosity' which 'emptied smoking rooms and the floor of the House alike. They collected so large an assembly that the first room chosen was packed out and they moved into a larger one.'39 The chief speaker was a leading figure at the League of Nations, C. J. Hambro, President of the Norwegian Parliament. He gave a vivid outline of what he believed to be the Group's potential, and concluded by inviting Buchman to bring a team to Norway.*
(* For an account of Hambro's first connections with the Oxford Group, see pp. 216-17.)
The second invitation came from East London, from the Revd E. G. Legge, a vicar in Poplar, which he said was 'one of the largest and poorest parishes in England'. He described the response: 'On the closing day of 1933 a team of eighty-five people arrived. Nothing seemed to daunt them. They started a programme of visiting every house. As many as could found accommodation in some of the poorest homes in the parish, sharing fully in their life despite one of the worst periods of fog I have ever known in East London. They were to be found eating in odd coffee-houses, gathering around them groups of men eager to know more of their message. They gripped the people from the first meeting, the midnight service on 31 December. The numbers grew and grew. The people had lost heart. To them the Oxford Group brought a real hope.' 40 Buchman was in the pulpit at this midnight service, his sermon eliciting a high degree of good-humoured audience participation.
From Poplar they reached into East Ham and Hackney, and a team 144-strong, mainly from the universities, spent Easter there. Much of this work was pioneered and followed through by a student from Regent's Park College, Bill Jaeger, the only son of a widow with a tiny millinery shop in Stockport. Jaeger conceived a passion to reach the people of East London. 'I was off there before the rest of the college were awake,' he recalls. 'Within eighteen months we had a team of 500 in the area.’ When he left college in 1936 Buchman set him to work in East London full-time on 'faith and prayer', and his mother, Annie, sold her shop for £40 and went to work with him. He got to know some of the gangs who centred in the local 'caffs', and many civic leaders. Bill Rowell, who was to represent 250,000 London unemployed at the Trades Union Congress of 1936, was enlisted by one of Jaeger's team, the son of a peer, six foot four tall, who slept for much of a winter on two chairs in the Rowells' kitchen. 'I can't help thinking of the peace platforms I have spoken on, telling the nation how to live together, and yet going home to a continuous war in my own home,' Rowell wrote. 'After twelve years of married life, I suddenly discovered I'd got a new wife and family. I gave up being a dictator, and immediately new love sprang up between us.'41
It was sometimes risky work. Emerging from the house one morning, one of Jaeger's team saw a belligerent little group of men waiting for him. 'You rat! I've half a mind to break your jaw!' said one of them, seizing him by his lapels.
'My friend, if that is going to help you at all and make me less of a rat, go ahead and break it,' said the young man.
The jaw was not broken, and the group dispersed.
Buchman gave Jaeger his head. 'He never told me what to do, but he always wanted to know what I was doing,' Jaeger says. 'He wanted to know who I was seeing and what I'd said to them. Then he might throw in some insight, some word of advice. He would bring business men and titled folk, who had found new motives, down to help me, and I would take my friends up West.'
When, at the end of the London campaign in 1934, Buchman took a major team to America and Canada, the vicar from Poplar went with him. Another who went was George Light, a leader of the unemployed in Warwickshire. Light had come to the Oxford house-party in 1933 full of bitterness at his own unemployment and that of the men he represented. He described his meeting with Buchman there: 'I never met a man who had such faith, or such a genius for turning up at the right moment. One day I ran into him and he asked me to join him in his room. He asked me what I thought about the Oxford Group. I said something polite. Then he asked, "Do you know anything against us? We'd be glad to know."
'I had just been to a socialist conference and one woman had said, "I have just heard on good authority that someone has given Buchman .£50,000 to carry on his work."
'I told Frank this and he said, "It is very queer, George. I have heard the same but you look at my bank book." He put it open into my hands. I think there was a balance of £9. "That is my whole bank balance," he said. Then we chatted of other things. "Where are you going now, George?" he said. I said I had a return ticket and a few shillings. Frank looked into his pockets and said, "I have £9 in cash besides what is in the bank. Here's £9. We both have the same amount. That makes us both socialists now."
'This was the second talk I ever had with Frank. He did not know me. I might have been a twister or anything. I went home and told my wife and family. That £9 was very useful, but it was not a fortune. Yet my family was so overjoyed at anyone taking such an interest in us that they just wept. Frank never postponed an act of unselfishness on his own part because a far greater one was needed on the part of society. What he did and what he fought for had in it elements of true revolutionary action.'42
On the final day of the London campaign, speaking in the Metropole Hotel in Northumberland Avenue, Buchman commented upon a newspaper's assertion that Oswald Mosley had 100,000 followers in his British Union of Fascists and that two million Britons were 'fascist-minded'. 'Have you got two million people in Britain who are Holy-Spirit-minded?' he challenged. 'You need what Gandhi says he misses in Christians - being "salted with the fire of the discipline".* I had some people to dinner last night,' he added. 'Some were pro-Hitler. Some anti-Hitler. I told them we were pro-change in everyone.'
(* Mark 9, 41. According to Buchman, one of Gandhi's favourite texts.)
Amid the welter of letters appearing in the press throughout that autumn was one from the distinguished missionary and ecumenist J. H. Oldham, who noted that a correspondent had suggested 'the Group movement is the expression in the religious sphere of the modern ideas and movements in the political field'. 'I wonder', wrote Oldham, 'whether what the Groups are reaching after, and in their measure discovering, is not something which is the complete antithesis of both Fascism and Communism. May it not be that they are rediscovering the truth that the meaning of life is found in the relations between persons? True community consists, not in the subordination of persons to impersonal ends, as is demanded by both Fascism and Communism, but in the unrelieved and joyfully accepted tension between contrasted and complementary points of view ….
'This is the real alternative to the philosophies of both Fascism and Communism, provided its implications in the social and economic spheres are fully thought out and faced. In it lies the only spring of hope for the world. It is the contribution of supreme value which this country, if true to what is best in its traditions, might make to the world in its present distress. But this view of the meaning of life can become a real alternative to Fascism and Communism only if it has its roots in the ultimate constitution of the universe and if we may dare to believe in a living God who is the source, consecration and sustainer of our personal relations with our fellow men.'43
1 The Times, 16August 1961. Sir Lynden later became Chairman of Reuters.
2 Bishop Perry to Archbishop Lang, 14 September 1932.
3 Archbishop Lang to Bishop Perry, 9 August 1932.
4 Bishop Perry to Archbishop Lang, 14 September 1932.
5 Revd P. T. B. Clayton to Archbishop Lang, 9 August 1932.
6 Canon Arnold Mayhew, six-page memo to Archbishop Lang, after attending Oxford house-party 27-30 June 1932.
7 Bishop of Dover to Archbishop Lang, 19 July 1932.
8 Prebendary E. C. Rich to Archbishop Lang, 15 December 1931.
9 Herbert Upward to Vernon Bartlett, 1 December 1931.
10 Item 12, minutes of meeting of Diocesan Bishops, Church House, Westminster, 18 and 19 January 1932.
11 Minutes of meeting, Church House, Westminster, 5 February 1934.
12 Archbishop Söderblom to Buchman, 10 February 1931.
13 Telegram from Archbishop Söderblom to Buchman, 20 May 1931.
14 Morning Post, 4 November 1933.
15 Owen Chadwick: Hensley Henson (Chaucer Press, 1983), p. 213.
16 Hensley Henson: The Group Movement (Oxford University Press, 1933),pp.
17 Chadwick, p. 214.
18 Hensley Henson: Retrospective of an Unimportant Life (Oxford University Press, 1943), Vol. III, p. 282.
19 Chadwick, p. 214.
20 ibid., p. 213.
21 The Times, 10 November 1933.
22 Daily Mail, 23October 1933.
23 The Times, 3 November 1933.
24 Daily Sketch, 29 September 1933.
25 The Times, 29 September 1933.
26 Martin Kiddle to Buchman, 28 February 1933.
27 Martin Kiddle to Lady Newsom, 20 August 1933.
28 The Times, 23 September 1933.
29 Daily Express, 19 February 1943.
30 Church of England Newspaper, 17 July 1931.
31 Bishop of Salisbury to H. Kenaston Twitchell, 2 January 1935.
32 H. Kenaston Twitchell to Buchman, 7 January 1935.
33 Buchman to Sir Michael Sadler, 14 December 1933.
34 Sir Michael Sadler to Buchman, 15 December 1933.
35 Arnold Lunn: Enigma (Longmans, 1957), p. 97.
36 The Times, 27 September 1933.
37 Sunday Dispatch, 24 September 1933.
38 ibid., 8 October 1933.
39 Evening Standard, 8 December 1933.
40 Church of England Newspaper, 26 January 1934.
41 From a widely printed press article, reprinted in Moral Re-Armament, edited by H. W. 'Bunny' Austin (Heinemann, 1938), pp. 58-9.
42 George Light, unpublished MS, 11 February 1946.
43 The Times, 6 October 1933.